Martin Luther King Community Caregiver Award Nominee

I was deeply honored to have been nominated for the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Caregiver award sponsored by Duke University Health System for my ongoing work with the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club. To be sure, this has been one of the most challenging undertakings of my life and one of the most rewarding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUNZvHYEI_g

 

Over two years ago, when Toastmasters Area Director, Manu Laksmanan invited me to help with what he envisioned as a six-month project, I did not agree to do so because I thought there might be an award involved. I doubt that any of my fellow award nominees began doing the work they do because of an award incentive. We step up to this sort of work because, as Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”  I knew I had skills that could empower an otherwise seldom-heard part of the community to develop a clear voice and build the courage to speak up and step into a better life.

I would hazard a guess that few people could achieve an award like this alone. Thank you to my boss, Dr. Geoff Rubin for nominating me and for allowing me to flex my time two days a month, coming in early or staying a bit late so that I can take a longer lunch break to attend daytime meetings. Thank you to Dawson Riggs, President of Duke Toastmasters. Jeb Sturmer and  Manu Laksmanan fellow toastmasters who initially began this project with me and wrote letters of support. Thanks to my husband, John, who supports this effort in many ways. Very special thanks to members of the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club who also wrote letters of support: Chaplain Lynn Holloway, Tony Hairston our Vice President of PR, and James Davis Vice President of Education. Their enthusiasm and continuing growth as speakers and leaders, above all, keeps me energized for this project.

Like Dr. King, I have always believed that we are all connected. As he said, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” Our community, and indeed our world functions best when we empower all of our members to function at their personal best.

I have also found another great paradox to be true; in seeking to give, I have received. The Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club has inspired me as I repeatedly witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of our shared stories.

As a Toastmaster, it was a particular joy to be nominated for this award which associates my name with that of the great American leader and orator, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If his legacy teaches us anything it is that we must all continue to work to help each other by whatever means and opportunities life presents us.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunities to develop a strong self concept.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 4.16.06 PM

Since September of 2014, I have been a volunteer mentor and club coach for the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club during two lunch breaks and two evenings a month.

At the very first meeting, I gave an evaluation of an ice-breaker (first) speech –and found renewed purpose! The speech was a heart wrenching tale of a shattered childhood, unsuccessful school experience, military service, lack of support after leaving the military, some bad decisions, failed relationships –and a new resolve to start over. I started my evaluation by saying, “Thank you for your service!” He held his head up and sat a little taller in his seat. I pointed out three things he had done particularly well; speaking without notes, speaking from the heart, and drawing us in with an engaging story. By then, he was beaming. Then I made one suggestion to engage more of the audience by moving around a bit. The look on his face was priceless. I had the feeling it was the first time he had ever received positive feedback from a teacher or boss or evaluator –in his life! It was that look on his face that sealed the deal for me. I was hooked on the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club at my first meeting.

In the year and half since that first meeting, I have heard countless similar tragic stories of lost opportunities, costly lapses of judgement and battles with depression and mental illness. I have gotten that same expression of elation and stunned disbelief in return for my constructive comments–over and over again. I keep going back because I am inspired by human resilience at every meeting and because the impact of my small effort is so immediate and heartwarming. I watch confidence grow and leadership skills develop. My heart cheers when I see the men improve.

From the beginning, our goal was to empower residents to take steps toward improving themselves and their career opportunities through the arts of public speaking and meeting leadership. I realized immediately how similar this was to the vision of Ralph Smedley who founded Toastmasters in a California YMCA in the early part of the 20th century.  His mission was to help young men improve their career prospects by teaching them to make better toasts at business luncheons. This was the one recognized way to assure career advancement in that era. Society has changed since then and so has Toastmasters! We seldom are called upon to give a toast at a business meeting these days, but a firm handshake and a clear response to an interview question are still valued skills.

Although we struggled unsuccessfully for some months to build a consistent evening meeting attendance, membership and enthusiasm gained traction after we began meeting as part of the Tuesday morning “Victory Class.” In this class, men learn to apply Biblical principles to their lives. Toastmasters became the second half of the class twice a month. One of my most memorable speaker evaluations happened in this class. A fellow named James Davis told a story about his life, delivering it with power and drama and lots of voice inflection. He ended by saying, “Here I am, 50 years old with no marketable skills.”

I was assigned as his evaluator that day. As an “icebreaker” speech, James had just delivered one of the best I had ever heard. He had a clear point and a logical progression to his story and his delivery contained a lot of the enhancements other beginning members struggle to implement such as vocal variety and appropriate hand gestures. I opened by saying, “Make no mistake. You sir, have a marketable skill!”

Several weeks later, I offered James a ride to a Toastmasters Competition in Charlotte. I think that was where the magic hit him. While watching those competitors, a fire lit in him and James saw something of his own life purpose. From that moment on, James Davis became the driving force for the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club, often assuming the role of Toastmaster (Master of ceremonies) at club meetings, encouraging new members to join while also working his way through the ten speech projects of the Competent Communicator Manual. It wasn’t long before he was elected Club President and led the club to charter!

Chartering was in important step.  Without a charter the men were not eligible to receive educational awards for their accomplishments or compete in speech contests. James has now completed his Competent Communicator award. And, two men, James Davis and Chaplain Lynn Holloway recently competed in an area speech contest!

For me, the experience has been nothing short of astounding. As Jeb Sturmer, another club mentor and a member of Duke Toastmasters Club has often said, “The men start at a very high level. They are all able to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle and end, make a point and do it all without using notes!” But to progress beyond that point, to get to the level of competition speaking, like all accomplished speakers, they need mentoring.

Because the men are residents at the Rescue Mission, there are also a few hurdles this club faces that other clubs don’t. For one thing, the membership is fairly fluid, with new members joining and others leaving the group when they find work and move on. The other challenge is membership fees. Although members are encouraged to contribute to their own membership fee when they are able, most of the membership and chartering fees have been raised through donations. And that need will continue as long as the club exists. The Durham Rescue Mission has set up a special fund for the ongoing support of the toastmasters clubs and all donations clearly marked for that purpose will be deposited to that fund.

“To me, the most exciting thing has been watching men find their voice and then realize that their story of struggle has the power to lift up the brothers coming up behind them and give them hope.”

To continue, this very special club needs community support. Beyond financial support, we need a community to serve as a club core. These members would not only provide stability to this club designed to serve a transient population, but also much needed role modeling and mentoring. If you have been thinking of joining a toastmasters club, please consider the Durham Rescue Mission Toastmasters Club as your new home club! If you are already a Toastmasters Club member in the Durham, NC area, joining us as your second club will also help you to advance in speaker and leadership goals more quickly!

Meetings are held on the First and Third Monday at 6:30 pm in the second floor Victory Classroom of the Durham Rescue Mission.

The men at the Rescue Mission face many obstacles. A community who believes in them and is willing to help bring out the best in them is just the beginning of great things to come. I hope you will consider joining us in this very rewarding leadership opportunity.

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 11858
Durham, NC 27703

Visit us in the Victory Classroom 2nd floor 
Center for Hope and Healing
1201 East Main St.
Durham, NC 27701

1st and 3rd Mondays at 6:30 pm
2nd and 4th Tuesday at 11:00 am

 

Childcare is STILL a Women’s Issue in America.

As a grad student, working on a master’s in counseling psychology, I once argued that childcare was a couples’ issue, not a women’s issue. We had come a long way baby!  We were living in a new age: Men and women shared equally in domestic responsibilities –didn’t we?  

I was living the dream. In my first job out of grad school, I  earned $4000 more than my finance! Yes sir, women could compete in a man’s world!

My husband and I continued on for a few years in a fairly level field. And then he went back to grad school for a doctoral degree while I worked two jobs to pay his tuition and our living expenses.

Then, just before John’s graduation, our first son was born. No one told this infant that men and women share childcare responsibilities equally. He knew, right from the start that men and women were not created equally. He was committed to nursing and would have nothing to do with a bottle. He voiced his protests loudly and incessantly. In fact, once he learned to speak, son #1 articulated his preferences quite clearly, “Not you, Daddy; I WANT Mummy!” was his first full sentence. 

Still physically drained after a very difficult pregnancy and complicated delivery, I took a job as a research assistant for an injury study. Babies are only infants for a very short time, I reasoned. This break would present but a speed-bump in my career path. I went to the office once a week for a staff meeting and to gather up my case files for the coming week. I planned that I would interview patients over the phone while the baby napped. My son never got the memo. 

He had colic.  

He was active and very alert.

He did NOT nap!

EVER!

I interviewed patients while the baby nursed on my lap, played with toys I dangled in front of him or while pacing with the baby strapped to me in a sling.

Just as I was preparing to return to “real work,” my husband finished his doctorate and accepted a position–in Minnesota, a state where my counseling degree was not recognized as licensable. 

Without a license, the only jobs I could find paid less than the cost of childcare! I reinvented myself again as writer. It would only be a year to two, John said, ’till he got established. Then we would move back East. 

So, I managed to carve out a career that I worked around child care. I would put my son and my husband to bed and then “go to work.” I would work until I fell asleep at the desk or finished the assignment. I managed to publish a slew of articles and my first book came out. I had a lineup of book signing events scheduled and was on my way!  

And then we got the call to adopt our second son. They told us he was aged three and a half, but he came with a whole host of undisclosed special needs–one of which was that he was actually six. While I canceled my book tour, my husband took on more responsibility at the hospital and more patients in private practice and finished a national board certification in forensic psychology.

Son #2 and I played “doctor-of-the-day” seeking out an ever expanding array of medical experts to get his issues straightened out. It seemed that for every career step forward John made, I took three steps backward. Now 15 years past grad school, John made more than four times what I did so it only made financial sense that he left all these doctor and therapist appointments to me. In the first year, #2 had three outpatient surgeries requiring extensive day and night followup at home, and two hospitalizations requiring one parent to room-in for a week at a time.

Have you ever heard a sick or hurt child sobbing for his daddy? Nope, me neither. Though postoperatively stoked with pain killers, this child managed to repeatedly whimper the only English word he knew, “Mama!”

I continued the daily rounds of doctors, therapists and advocacy groups trying to get help. I researched and implemented every diagnosis and treatment plan. I lobbied against state budget cuts for special needs children’s programming. 

The urologist, engaged for #2 in the midst of a bladder stone crisis that we hadn’t been apprised of prior to adoption, said that I asked better questions than his medical residents. I should consider going to Medical School. He would write a recommendation. I was stunned. How would I pay for that?  And, if I couldn’t afford child care for a typical child when I was working, how would I afford child care for six years for a special needs child when I wasn’t working? 

I carried my laptop everywhere and wrote in waiting rooms and on playgrounds. I hired babysitters on an as-needed basis and led workshops for would-be writers on weekends when my husband was home, organized writing conferences and networked with writers around the globe. To keep my counseling skills active, I taught active listening skills to church outreach groups and taught parenting skills to mother’s groups. 

When the preschool refused to take #2 because of his by then well diagnosed multiple special needs, I agreed to sit in the hallway outside the classroom in case I was needed urgently. I sat on a classroom chair with my laptop for three hours every day, five days a week for two years because this child NEEDED to be in preschool more than any other child I ever knew. Still, I produced hundreds of articles for Harcourt Educational Testing.

And then we got a phone call that our daughter was waiting for us to fly to China to adopt her.

Unlike Son #2, this two-year-old child was physically sound, not a scratch or parasite or undiagnosed anything! But she was emotionally traumatized. For a full year she did not let go of me. She clung like a baby opossum. I wrote with her sitting on my lap, clinging to me and with my arms wrapped around her. She screamed in terror if I stepped out of view even for a second. I even learned to perform a full regimen of bathroom activities with a second person attached. We moved her toddler bed next to our bed because she would not sleep unless she was touching me. If she woke in the night and my hand was not on her she would have dissociative panic attacks that lasted hours and were loud enough to wake at least the neighbors if not the dead. 

I think now, that in my younger, less experienced life, that I had seriously miscalculated the impact of childbearing and child rearing on a woman’s life. Although I still believe, in an egalitarian society, it should be a couple’s issue, biology and the structure of the American workplace conspire against women to keep this a women’s issue. Not all women bounce back from life threatening complications of pregnancy able to plow fields the following day –or even months later. It was nearly a year after I had given birth before I began to feel “normal” again.

I know that other countries do a much better job of this. China, for example currently has a proposal under consideration to extend the mandatory maternal leave to 3 years. Onsite childcare and employer sponsored sick childcare would help nursing mothers and ease the separation of anxious toddlers and sick children who know “that mommy is just upstairs.” Mothers who know that if their child needs them, taking a break to stop down-stairs to the daycare center is a very real possibility. Such a scenario would be free them for real work-place productivity.

So, if it’s not too late, I’d like to take back that assertion about childcare being a couple’s issue. I concede that, in America, it is still very much a woman’s issue–though I wish it was a couples issue or even an issue that society and more policy makers as a whole took seriously.  

 

I’ve been thinking about numbers

 

1TCokmXv587MIb6NFNnrN6wkiRyONVJetz2TzITLRbw

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the overwhelming number of numbers in my life.  Before I started kindergarten, my mom drilled me in all the important numbers I would need to know: phone number and street address. When I had mastered those, she added the emergency number for my grandmas house if something happened and Mom couldn’t be reached at home. I already knew the plate number for our car: CVE-952. I was overwhelmed.  The world was filled with so many numbers to remember!

I had no clue what was to come!

Maybe it’s only me, but lately I am feeling overwhelmed by numbers again. I stopped to buy something at a store and realized I had forgotten my frequent buyers card.  “Not to worry,” said the clerk.  “We can look it up.  What’s your phone number?”

I stood there staring blankly at her for a moment.

“Which one?”

“Just start with one.”

So I do, I just start rattling off a number, but it’s not the right one. Then we try another and it too, is not right. I try to remember how long I have had this account. Then, I try the number of my former cell phone–not right–and then struggle to remember my former house phone–mining one numeral at a time from some deep, long forgotten fold in my cerebrum, a phone number from five years ago–a phone we used only briefly before we got so fed up with static on the line and endless robo-calls that we disconnected it . . . Bingo!

One of my kids had a school form that needed to be filled out to be excused from class for a doctors appointment. I stood at the school secretary’s desk filling it out.  It asked for mother’s and father’s cell phone numbers. I can’t ever remember my husband’s actual phone number. It is #2 on my speed dial. How can I be expected to remember the actual number when I never actually call it? He used to be number 1 but then we got a new cell phone service and #1 is always voicemail on this service. He has not been happy about being demoted to #2 in my life, but what can I do?  Sometimes the numbers are predetermined! When I’m in a hurry and need to ask him a question or tell him I’m stuck in traffic and he needs to pick up a kid on the way home, I still punch #1 and get voicemail.  For him it’s worse. He doesn’t even need to dial any more. He just says, “Siri, call Peg.” No number is involved.  Well it is a number, but he need not ever be conscious of it.  For the most part, these unconscious numbers are not as much a problem until someone, like a teacher, asks for it.  They probably think I’m stupid because I don’t know my husband’s cell phone number. “And they expect us to teach their young? It’s hopeless with parents this brain-dead!”  They never say this–out loud–but I can hear it.

I drive up to the bank and insert my card and then have to remember the pin number which is not the same number I have to remember when I log in online.  And then there’s the other bank account for business expenses which of course, has a different pin number.  And the credit union at work is yet another number.  And the mortgage bank has a different pin and the credit cards for gas and each different store where I shop and the log-in on my computer at work and at home, and the log-in to the company shared drive and my documents file and the gate to the storage unit where we store documents from a long ago business all have different pin numbers. I have kids and they have schools and lunch accounts and student ID”s and activity codes . . .

I buy things online and for each site that I buy from, there is a different log in e-mail and pass code. The trick is to remember not only which e-mail address I used but which passcode goes with that e-mail on that site.

I have a facebook account and twitter account–times three–one for personal stuff and one for my job and one for my author stuff.  Each has  different e-mail address and password associated with it.

I sell books online so there are another set of pass-codes and e-mail addresses for that.   Sometimes, for the same site I have to log in differently depending on whether I am buying or selling and whether I am buying for work or for personal use. And if I want to edit my webpage, there’s a code for that, but a different code for the work webpage. Security guru’s all caution against writing these passcodes down so I try to be clever and make up codes I will remember, but no, this one requires numbers, capital letters and lower case letters. That one allows no punctuation marks or spaces, another requires a “special mark.” And never use the obvious: 123password!

Sometimes, OK, way too often, I can’t remember a password so I have to reset it, sending a link to the e-mail address associated with the account and not finding it, I realize that it must have been a different e-mail address than I had thought. So I have to check all my e-mail accounts including ones I haven’t used since, well probably since the fall of Rome and follow the link back to the site.  And then five minutes later I can’t remember what I reset it to, because of course, to be safe, I chose random numbers, didn’t write them down and now can’t remember them. At least now I remember which e-mail account is associated with this web site! I think.

Sometimes, I need to access something fast.  My boss is hovering over my desk looking for some obscure piece of information. This is his password I need to remember.  He set it up, but he doesn’t remember it.  At these times, all the passwords in my brain seem to swirl in an incomprehensible stew. This one, no that one?  These letters, those numbers–or the other way around? How can I not remember a simple password?  At least, I console, myself, he doesn’t remember either!

I don’t like looking stupid.  I tried one of those smart web apps that remembers your pass codes but it didn’t allow for folks like me who have separate personal, work, sellers and authors accounts at say Amazon.com and each have different log-in e-mails and passwords. I think I drove the app crazy–or maybe it drove me crazy.  I can’t remember. At any rate, we’re no longer on speaking terms.

I feel like my life has been taken over by pass-codes!  Seriously. I spend a good chunk of time every day remembering, resetting and monitoring pass-codes–increasingly as my life seems to involve more and more web applications, this seems to involve way too much time!  I could be far more productive if I could just remember the passcode for that!  Wait!  Does productivity have a passcode? I can’t remember.

I’ve been thinking about the power of fear . . .

When I was eight, I was pretty sure that monsters with claws six inches long and jowls as slobbery as a three-headed mastiff lurked beneath my bed. They crouched in wait, ready to snatch me by the ankle if I dared to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  I knew they would drag me to a dark pit that would open up beneath my bed and from which (I was absolutely positive) there was no escape. The only possibility of getting past these monsters was to leap off the safety of my bed into the middle of the room, where a writhing hoard of nearly invisible black snakes slithered across the night floor blocking my way to the door. If I happened to step on one of them, I was pretty sure it would rise up and bite me with venom that would make my face swell and then pop off my head in fewer seconds than it would take to rouse my parents and alert them to the likelihood of my imminent demise.

If I managed not to step on them, these sneaky snakes would surely race toward me and slither silently up my pajama legs and wrap themselves around my arms, before biting me in the neck. That much was certain.

If I jumped off the bed and survived the journey across the bedroom floor far enough to make it to the door, there was an enormous fox who lived in the closet just beside the bedroom door who would lurch out just as I reached for the doorknob.  He would grab me by the scruff of the neck like a helpless kitten and stuff me into his boiling stew pot.

Consequently, I sat awake in bed many nights urgently having to pee but too immobilized by fear to even attempt to make a break for the door until the light of dawn revealed the absence of any previously lurking denizens.

It wasn’t just things in the night that scared me.  Oh, no, I probably invented a host of phobias as yet unknown to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual!

imgres-1Taking a cue from the Cowardly Lion who only needed to be told he was brave to find the courage he lacked, my mother hatched a plan to develop courage in me. She parked the station wagon in the lot across the street, assured me that as the eldest, I was the most suitable designee for this job, give me a dollar and commanded me to walk to the Cumberland Farms store, a mere twenty yards across the street to buy a gallon of milk while she waited in the car with the “little kids.” The enormity of the task loomed ahead like a hundred mile obstacle course!

I was so sure, absolutely positive, in fact that I would be hit by a car and flattened like a pancake that I WOULD NOT cross until I could not see any car in any direction. This drove my mother crazy. “Cross the street!” she would yell from the comfort and safety of the car.

My younger brothers would chant “Now! Now! Now!” from the back seat.

“Not yet!” I would whimper back as I stood, knees knocking, stomach in my throat, too terrified to move, watching until the last taillights disappeared over the horizon–because as we all know, drivers are apt to unpredictably shift their cars into reverse and back up in the middle of the road at full speed, giving no chance of survival to anyone crossing the road at that moment. Only when there was absolutely NO car in sight, would I race across the street as fast as adrenaline could propel me. I would purchase the milk and then I would have to take the harrowing trip back across the street to the car. After repeated trials with no discernable improvement, my mother gave up, pronounced me, “hopeless” and allowed my daredevil younger brother to complete the errand. How that kid could saunter across a street! To this day, he has absolutely no respect for impending doom.

One day, I gained a secret weapon. Aunt Amy gave me a magic blue flashlightaclk that had the power to make any monsters evaporate when they are exposed to even the faintest beam of its light. And, as strange as it may sound, it worked! That magic beam was as powerful as any light sabre and it saved my life on more occasions than I can count!

Though they seemed very real to me in the dark night of my childhood bedroom, I have learned since then that most of my childhood fears were imagined. The absurdity of my monster fears hit me one day in college and I burst out laughing.

Recliner-with-Guest-Relaxing_j

In truth, if a pit were to actually open beneath my bed, it would have sucked me down to deposit me in my father’s lap where he sat in his La-Z-Boy, watching TV in the family room directly below my bed. But you couldn’t have told me that as a child.  As I child I lived in that vaporous reality between imagination and verifiable truth.

Dismissing these imagined demons of childhood doesn’t mean that the world isn’t full of monsters. Quite the opposite! The world is full of pitfalls and perils of far greater consequence than mere monsters. But, I have learned that life is nothing if we let fear control our path. In fact, the shortest way to success, and our greatest happiness is often plotted by taking a flying leap off the safe places in life and landing feet first into the middle of a writhing ball of invisible black snakes; doing the very things we fear most!

I suspect in fact that even as adults, our own fear; particularly the fear of failure is the biggest thing that keeps us from achieving our goals. Reason is the flashlight of adulthood.  Like a well-aimed laser beam, reason casts light on fear and zaps it into oblivion or at least slices it neatly into perspective. Given the right pieces of information, we can analyze complex situations and banish even the giant foxes hiding in our closets!

I have found that the motivation to complete a real life obstacle course and confront demons cannot be handed to someone or demanded of or shamed into someone. That courage must be born of determination that rises from within. Cultivating courage can be a slow process for a timid person. With each little stroke of success that life has handed me, I developed another layer of strength to fight even bigger, less imaginary monsters.

After completing a BA in English and Anthropology, I took a flying leap into Counseling Psychology—a complete change of major. I landed firmly in the middle of that writhing ball of snakes usually known as grad school. In a way, the snakes did climb up my pajama legs and wrap around my arms. I was afraid and overwhelmed for a while. It was like landing in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. I was sure I would flunk out before the first semester ended.  But I did not quit. I kept battling that mess one snake at a time! Imagine my surprise when I ended the semester with straight A’s. I looked around and all the grad school snakes had evaporated; they’d been cast into oblivion by my hard work and hard won confidence.

My husband and I had long decided that it was past time to leave Minnesota. Spring is the time to sell a house in Minnesota, not winter when the foundation is buried in snow and the driveway has to be shoveled hourly.

But the long distance job hunt was not going well. The time to move was upon us. If we did not jump soon, the moment of opportunity would be lost for at least another year. The only way to move beyond the nearly endless winter of Minnesota was to sell nearly everything; a lifetime of accumulated possessions and move to a warmer place where we had no jobs, no promise of a place to live, no family, no friends, no security, nothing to rely upon but our combined wits. We gathered up our kids and with both eyes opened, jumped into the thing we both desired and feared the most: a warmer life in North Carolina.

It was a difficult landing and we struggled for quite a few years. The snakes of life wriggled mightily, but I can honestly say that this biggest leap of our lives has been the most rewarding.

imgresEach of us has the power to fight the monsters under our beds, the writhing balls of invisible snakes in the middle of the room, and even the giant foxes in our closets. If you start with the focused light that is belief in yourself and aim that beam at one goal at a time, you will evaporate them all, one monster, one snake, one giant fox at a time.

Is there something holding you back from your goals? Take a good long look at it. Shine a clear light directly on it.  Analyze the situation and take the steps to reach your goal.

I’ve got a magic blue flashlight I don’t need any more. You’re welcome to it if you need one. Just pass it on to someone else when you’re done with it.

 

 

I’ve been thinking about cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation appears to be a hot issue right now in international adoption circles. This is not something that just started nor is unique to international adoption.  What’s new is that it is viewed among some young adult adoptee groups as a negative rather than a positive. They seem to have latched onto it as a new source of blame.  Adoptive parents have done wrong not only by removing adopted children from their birth culture, but also by appropriating areas of their birth cultures into their adoptive family life.

Cultural appropriation is the way the world grows smaller. When we eat sushi, we have culturally appropriated Japan. When we send our kids to Tae Kwon Do, we have appropriated Korean culture.

The child adopted in previous generations was raised as a member of the new family and expected to assimilate into that family’s culture, leaving behind everything of their family of origin.  In my parents generation, if a couple adopted a child from another culture, there was no effort made to educate the child about their country of origin. This pretty much followed the trend among new immigrants who desperately wanted to be seen as “all-American,” not used-to-be-Polish or Hungarian. My husband’s grandparents immigrated and his American-born parents wanted nothing to do with Polish language or foods. As is typical, it was the second generation Americans, those born to American-raised parents, who then look back with longing for the “good old ways.”

I wonder when I look around at our increasingly mobile society, how many individuals have the luxury to stay in one place their entire lives, to grow in the same culture they were born to.  People no longer land a job right out of high school at the same place their father worked and work the same job until they retire at 62!  Today’s average worker changes jobs 10 to 15 times over the course of a career! Increasingly, promotion, even promotion within the same company also requires relocation, not just across the country, but across the globe. My cousin Chuck was unique in my family because he worked 22 years for IBM, but most of those years were spent in Japan. In search of education, and employment opportunities, my husband and I have lived in NJ, AZ, PA, VA, MD, NH, VT, MN and NC. Though all in America, the culture in each of these place is a little different. Like most Americans, we have kept the parts of our shared culture that were important and adapted to our new surroundings as needed.

But, what exactly is culture and to whom does it “belong?”

Culture defines boundaries and it is  the way a group of people passes down a world view.  In a time of tribal identity, it was a way to define who was friend and who was foe. In time of famine, who do we let into the city gates and who do we lock out? What once had meaning in a culture may get handed down, but without the original meaning. In Croatia, where my grandfather lived, the women of each village use a different pattern of red embroidery on their skirts. You could tell where a woman was from (Is she one of “us?”) just by her skirt!

Cultural competency is a survival skill. It helps us know how to act in every situation. But cultural competency is necessary in the culture one lives, not the culture one came from. If one immigrates to a new culture but does not adapt to that culture, rather clings instead to the old ways of the former culture that are more familiar, one does not survive-at least not well.

As an Anthropology major, I learned that culture is not static but an ever evolving social construct. Our sense of identity and how we fit into society comes largely from our family stories and our community experiences. And yet, if that communal narrative does not adapt and change with newly evolved threats, the culture dies.

I grew up in a family with a strong sense of culture. My father’s father had founded a Croatian cultural society and participated in singing and dancing folk songs and playing traditional instruments as a family. But my mother’s family was Irish and German.  So, I learned to eat braunschweiger and onion sandwiches on a poppyseed roll and sing Irish lullabies to the babies. I thought of culture as wealth: something that enriched rather than limited one’s life. I didn’t lose my mother’s culture when I watched a Croatian folk group dance nor did I have a sense of betraying my father’s family if I sang Irish lullabies. I felt richer because I embraced all of these cultural traditions.

Before I married into my husband’s family, his grandmothers schooled me in all the important parts of Polish cooking. I got gold stars in babka and pierogi, and a passable grade in galabki and Chrusty. We joke that I nearly didn’t get approved for marriage because I refused to learn to make czernina (soup made from the blood of a live duck) something they considered an annual Christmas necessity.

The truth of the matter is that I am entirely American.  I have never even set foot on the the soils of these countries of my grandparents. I am neither Croation nor Irish or German. I am American. I would not fit in a Croatian village any more than my Chinese born adopted children would fit in China today. We celebrate the trappings of culture, keeping favorite family recipes and holiday traditions, but because we are American and because culture is a living breathing thing, we scuttle the stuff that has no meaning for us. All cultures do this. Chinese people, even those living in China, no longer break and bind the feet of young girls or arrange their marriages at birth.

As my generation began adopting children, we thought it was important to give children a sense of pride in their national origin. Maybe we overdid it? We sent our adopted kids to language schools and ethnic dance classes. We made an effort to find dolls that looked just like our ethnically-different-from-us children. Whole families participated in cultural festivals and ethnic holidays that were native to the adopted child’s country of origin, but usually not to the adoptive family. Some American Born Chinese friends once commented that we were more Chinese than they were! Typical of most immigrants, the parents of these ABC had been eager to assimilate into American culture. We have Chinese silk paintings and calligraphy decorating our walls and they had a portrait of Elvis.

As you can see, my husband and I are guilty of cultural appropriation: 971065_10152874983165035_285860828_n

We celebrate Chinese New Year  and Moon Festival in our house. We eat Chinese food several times a week. My kids snack on ramen noodles as if they were Twinkies.

These angry, young adult adoptees contend that their rights as a child to remain in their birth culture were never considered. They feel they would have been better off, less socially awkward had they remained in their native countries. Living among people of a different race and a different culture has been for them–problematic.

The world is changing. Our families and communities are expanding rapidly! It is interesting to note that Cultures that have migrated–diaspora–change less than the home base. Preserving the culture “just the way it was” is more important to those who move away than to those who are immersed in it as it continues to breathe and grow. It is one way that we humans resist change and hold on to the familiar in a world that is swiftly spinning beyond our control. The truth of the matter is that our culture, globally, is evolving so rapidly that  everyone (at least everyone who pauses long enough to consider such things) feels a little disconnected from their roots. The culture these adoptees were born into twenty years ago is not the same culture that exists today. They can never go back to the China of their earliest memories or of their dreams; not because they have been so Americanized, but because that culture no longer exists! While they were away, China or Guatemala, Korea or Haiti have changed. If you walk the streets of these countries today, you will see people dressed in western business suits, carrying briefcases and talking into cell phones. The culture of their memories and fantasies no longer exists. And, I say fantasies because I suspect the culture constructed by birth parents to give their children a sense of ethnic pride, is something we have idealized for them. It never, in reality ever existed. We have kept the good parts and scuttled the parts we felt were destructive. We told them stories about birth mothers who lovingly placed them in places where they would be found because they could not care for them. We left out any possibility of birth mothers who might not have wanted them because we found that thought too painful to bear. We insisted to ourselves and to our children that birth mothers were victims of circumstances and given a better world would have kept their children. We place the onus on economics or social constraints, never on personal inconvenience. The truth is, for many of us, we simply don’t know why our children were abandoned by their families of origin. We only knew that they needed a family and we needed a child to love.

Two of my children, adopted from China, like my grandparents and all adoptees born in another country–are immigrants to America. There is a tendency among immigrants to look back at the old days with nostalgia and forget the reasons that drove them to America. Trips back to “the old country”DSCF0565 seldom live up to the expectations of the second generation. My grandfather never went back to the old country. It was the second generation that looked back with nostalgia and said, “Look what you stole from us by coming to America!” After he retired, my uncle visited the old family homestead in Croatia and commented that it was “a real dump! How did they raise all those kids in that small house?”

Despite the good stuff they tried to bring with them, there were reasons my family and my husband’s family immigrated to America. Potato famines and insurrections, abject poverty and world wars drove various relatives to the land of opportunity.

On the one hand, I totally agree that It would certainly have been easier for adopted children to have grown into a sense of cultural identity had they remained in their countries of origin—if the culture of those countries was accepting of single parent families or multi-race children or differently abled children or second daughters. In fact, the changes I do see happening in those cultures are largely at the hands of adoptive parents who have remained connected with the birth cultures and formed organizations to reach out and benefit the children deemed “unadoptable.” They have started schools to educate handicapped children who are not allowed in public schools. Adoptive parents have started foundations to provide corrective surgeries for babies with disorders that mark them as outcast in their home cultures. They have now infused these birth cultures with western values of inclusion and opportunity for all.

Our global understanding of culture is expanding into broader and broader circles of inclusion. Like a bride who learns to cook her husband’s favorite ethnic foods, most of the adoptive parents I know have spent a great deal of time and effort not only bringing their children into their own culture, but extending themselves into the culture of the child. We have so much Chinese art in our house that my eldest son, product of my husband’s and my gene pool once asked, “Where’s the Polish Art?” We have paid for Chinese schools and friends have sent their kids to Korean camps, Djembe drum lessons and Guatemalan folk arts classes, not only for their adopted child but for other members of the family as well.

Another error I see in this thinking by adoptees, is that one culture is mutually exclusive of another. That in gaining America, they have lost their countries of origin. I would counter that adoptive families become a very real, multi-ethnic celebration of the expanding global family.

The angry adopted young adults refer to cultural appropriation with a sense of disgust, as if  adoptive parents have stolen something from them or kidnapped them from something that is rightfully theirs. In reality, they have likely appropriated much of American culture that they are not aware of! These young adults with college degrees who would not have been allowed to go to elementary school in their birth cultures because of social status or gender have no trouble speaking out and claiming rights that their birth countries would have denied them without the intervention of American and European adoptive families.

The truth is that the life of an orphan in these places is not hopeful. The prospects for education and career, quality of medical care, indeed the prospects for survival are quite limited for most of them had they remained in their birth culture. The children who need homes today do not have time to wait for their cultures to grow toward greater acceptance. Their only hope of education, life-saving surgeries, healthful nutritional options and emotional stability was and still remains; adoption.

Yes, I strongly agree that it would have been best if these babies had been able to stay in their countries of origin had the social network existed to care for them. I am not alone.  This is why so many adoptive parents continue to support efforts in their children’s countries of origin to support single mothers, to encourage in-country adoptions, add staff to orphanages and “hugging grannies” for nurseries, build and train staff for early childhood education centers, or provide education fees for school children and life altering surgeries.  It is not only a way to give back, but a way to alter the culture just enough to assure that orphans don’t need to be adopted to other countries in order to live productive lives.

Personally, I think our family and other adoptive families are a little richer for appropriating a bit of Chinese or Korean or Ethiopian or Brazilian culture into our home and one day, I hope the kids see this as the gift we intended it to be.

 

I’ve been thinking about international adoption

I have been thinking about international adoption and the ways this decision to parent children from another culture has shaped not only their lives, but my life and the life of our entire extended family and maybe countless other people we don’t even know yet.

On October 5th, 1997, we became a Chinese American family when we adopted Ben GaoRong from  the city of Gaoming in G971065_10152874983165035_285860828_nuangdong province, China. On that day, we embraced not only a very excited, very malnourished, very sick six-year-old, but an entire culture.  We had struggled with the implications of removing a child from his country of origin. We believed that what was really best for him was to remain in China and to be raised by his birth parents. But thousands of years of Chinese culture cannot be changed overnight.  The second best adoption would be his adoption by loving Chinese parents. At that time, domestic adoption in China was not a legal option. We knew that for all that we could offer, we were really his third best but only real option for a healthy life in a loving family. Despite all the benefits of medical care and nutrition and education we could give him, he would experience a profound loss of cultural identity. But the clock was ticking for him as it does for thousands of the world’s orphans. He was in fact, so sick that he would have died within months in China had we not adopted him when we did. The cultural systems that should have provided his greatest benefit would not evolve in time  to save his life. He could only be adopted by a foreign couple. His only hope of family life and stability and life at all (as it turned out after multiple medical interventions) was foreign adoption.

7791_10152874982795035_762395409_nHe would not be aware of this loss, at least not at first, but, like parents everywhere, we anticipated this need for him. To minimize that loss, we felt it was our responsibility to retain as much of his Chinese identity as possible. We knew that we could not give him, or the two-year-old daughter we adopted two years later, a true experience of growing up in the China he had left or even approximate the experience of living in a Chinese American family, but we wanted to come as close as we could. We wanted these kids to be proud to be Chinese. We sandwiched their Chinese names between their new American Names so that they would have the option to choose any configuration of that name in later years. We studied Chinese language and filled our home with Chinese music. We decorated their rooms and much of our home in Chinese art to the point that our eldest son (product of our own gene pool) asked, “Where’s the Polish art in this house?”

We contributed to Chinese charities and marked the passage of the year as much in Chinese holidays as American holidays. We made Chinese foods a regular part of our diet. My daughter says we have not made it enough a part of our diet as she would still eat Chinese food every day, for every meal with the exception of an occasional pepperoni pizza.  –And maybe peanut butter.  I am not sure she could survive long without peanut butter.

As time went on, we became more and more aware of white people around us. We became sensitive to racist comments as if they were directed to us because, well, they were!  “Why didn’t you adopt an American child?”

Despite our efforts, our kids, now teenagers, are both far more American in their identity and their world view than Chinese. They attend schools where they are more accepted among English-speaking American peers than among first and second generation Chinese-speaking immigrant peers. English has become their primary language. I find that I now mourn their loss of China more than they do.  My daughter who used to sing herself to sleep in Chinese lullabies and nursery tunes now struggles to remember the words and sometimes doesn’t remember what they mean when she does remember them.

When we adopted our daughter, we visited a monastery on a steep Nanjing hillside 971072_10152875043925035_631403615_npopulated by Buddhist nuns. The nuns surrounded us, intrigued by our little girl who after only two days, clearly knew who Mama was and already rejected their overtures of affection. “Will you bring her back when she is grown?” they asked.

“Yes,” I said. “She is Chinese.  I want her to know her country.  I will bring her back when she is old enough to appreciate everything she sees.” They all nodded in approval and patted my arms and thanked me for honoring this little Chinese life.

I still dream for her that she will be able to return to China.  I want her to be able to go for more than just a tourist trip. I want for her to traipse through hutong-men and talk to people in the market. I dream for her to live there for a time, to study, to learn about her roots in more depth. I want her to retrace the steps of her early life, to meet the people significant to the beginning part of her story. It occurs to me that I will need to rely upon the good graces of many Chinese people. I will need them to teach her to celebrate all that I took away from her and could not replicate for her.

Why do I not wish this for our son? I wish it could be so, but for him such a dream is not realistic. The years of malnutrition and illness left their mark on him. He is too mentally, physically and emotionally challenged to make such a voyage on his own.

More and more I think it truly takes a village to raise a child.  And more and more, especially for internationally adopted children, that village is global.

I’ve been thinking about privilege . . .

I’ve been thinking about the place of privilege in the career success formula.

My parents were first and second generation Americans. My father’s father had emigrated to the land of golden opportunity with not much more than a Catholic prayer book (now in the Ellis Island Museum) and a pocket full of dreams. They believed that if you worked hard enough in America, good things would come to them. My grandfather had worked in the steel mills of Johnstown, PA and farmed to keep his family fed. Having left abject poverty in rural Croatia, it was relative prosperity: steady income and good soil produced adequate nutrition and shelter for his family. He left seven children when he died. My father, the youngest, was twelve.

When his brother, my Uncle Jim returned home after WWII, he moved his mother and294238_10152875039585035_713893648_n-1 younger siblings to the New Jersey Shore where my widowed grandma could run a boarding house. My dad was a hard worker too and even at a young age, he found work on the boardwalk, sewing names on hats for tourists, and flipping burgers at a hamburger stand. He married his high school sweetheart a few years after graduation.

942249_10152875039910035_1271486173_nMom had wanted to be a nurse, but in those days, once she married, a woman was no longer permitted to be a nursing student. She left school to became a full-time wife and started right away making babies in true Catholic fashion.  I was born ten months after the wedding, thirteen months later came my first brother and 11 months later a second brother . . . and we kept coming  until there were six of us.

My dad continued to work; one job to feed the family and pay the bills and the second job to pay his tuition. At the same time, he attend night school, finally graduating with a degree in accounting when I was in third grade. We were never rich but he managed to build a successful practice despite some changeover in partners and a couple of bad business decisions. Despite setbacks that would have discouraged lesser men, he kept going, one step at a time, weaving the growth of a business and a family with his personal growth, pursuing the American dream. He finished his master’s degree after I (taking a more traditional college route) had already finished mine.

My dad was, I believe unique for his time. When I was in seventh grade, the leading partner in his firm died. In order to keep the business afloat, he sunk his limited personal assets into the practice. He told me this meant that he would not be able to help me with any money but that I must go to college. In order to do so, I would have to work hard and start my own savings for college. I would also need to remain academically strong so that I might qualify for scholarships. I worked part time from seventh grade onward. In the summers, I worked two or three jobs. I saved nearly every cent. In high school I took all the “hardest courses” and did not “waste time” taking study hall and maintained a B+ average despite working after school and on weekends. I also rose to the highest rank of Girl Scouts; First Class. I was vice president of the council’s senior planning board, student representative on the board of directors and a representative of the council at two national events. Though I won several other small scholarships because of this activity, I was dismayed in senior year that I had worked so hard–far harder than a lot of my classmates and had not earned a national merit scholarship. True, I didn’t have a straight A average as all of these students did. I could have lived with that realization until I discovered that  one person I knew, who took all the “easiest courses” including typing (which my dad considered a waste of time and talent) and was in no school clubs or after school community service organizations had gained a national merit scholarship! Clearly this scholarship was not about hard work. It occurred to me that winning was all about knowing the rules of the game. And, I had not known the rules of this game. If I had taken all the easiest courses, perhaps I would have maintained an A average, but I wouldn’t have gotten the most learning possible out of High School. And, in my father’s rule of life, that was the most important thing. That’s why, in college when I was on a scholarship that allowed me up to 20 credits per semester, I always took all 20 credits. Some people consider that academic suicide.  One can’t manage more than 16 credits a semester–12 if you are working! I always took twenty credits and I always worked. I wouldn’t have been able to finish two majors in four years if I hadn’t done that.

The messages I received as a child said that one should work hard, focus on the desired prize and delay all gratification until the goal had been reached. Once achieved a goal was celebrated briefly and then a new, higher goal was set. One did not spend money or time frivolously. For this reason, when I was twenty-one and presented with an offer by the Monmouth Council of Girl Scouts to chaperone a bicycle tour through Europe for the summer, I turned it down. To accept would have meant that I would have had to delay college for a year. If I didn’t earn my annual tuition each summer, I couldn’t afford to stay in school.

When I look back, I realize how little guidance I received from anyone who knew anything about higher education. My dad was my primary adviser and he was, in retrospect, more a graduate of the school of hard knocks than of Rutgers University. The career advice he gave me:

  • Learn how to type but don’t take a typing class or stenography class and never put on a transcript or a job application that you know how to type. If they know you can type they’ll never let you out of the typing pool. You’re too smart to waste your life typing!
  • You need to go to college to get a good job. I don’t want you to get married because you need a husband to support you.
  • Accounting is a good career for a woman–except during tax season.
  • Follow the money.  If they offer you a scholarship go to that school. If they offer you a better job in a different city, move.

In looking back over my career life and my choices of colleges and grad schools, I could certainly have benefited from some mentoring or at least guidance from someone who knew the rules of this higher education and career game. There are rules, but I am only now beginning to understand them. I have made many career missteps because I didn’t have the advantage of someone who understood what I wanted to do with my life, or appreciated those goals or had an understanding of the ways in which my innate abilities could best translate into a career.  There was no one who could offer solid advice on how to structure the steps of a career.

All colleges are not created equal. A scholarship does not guarantee a good or even an adequate education. As I reflect back on it, I think it might have been better to go into debt and come out of college having better career prospects and commanding a higher salary. I was accepted to Cornell and William and Mary but not offered scholarships, so I followed one scholarship after another, eventually completing my BA at St. Francis College in Loretto Pennsylvania and an M.Ed. in Counseling at James Madison University, Virginia.

I wonder sometimes how my life might have been different had I gone the more expensive route and attended Cornell or William and Mary without a scholarship. Would that have opened career doors I didn’t even know about? Would I have found a more informed mentor in one of these places?

I don’t think of this as anyone’s “fault.”  I was part of a new generation of women raised to believe, unlike our mothers, that we could have a career after marriage. Just because it was possible didn’t mean anyone had figured out how to make it work. The career rules that had worked for men do not work as well for women–especially when there is not yet an established infrastructure for balancing child care and the demands of a professional career.

I once toured Carl Sandberg’s home.  It was a foggy day and a pair of kittens played in the garden. I could envision, “The fog comes on little cat feet!” The guide showed us through his study to a high desk where he liked to stand to write.  I like to stand when I write!  She said that he also liked to write at night.  I love to write in the deep silence of night!  One of his wife’s chief duties, said the guide, was to keep the children quiet during the day so he could sleep. What I lacked in my writing career, I only half joked with my husband, was a wife to keep the children quiet while I slept!

Society, I believe, still needs to evolve in ways that better accommodates the needs of women in the career force. Girls need active mentoring that teaches them how to balance home and career worlds. This is far more complicated than the women’s activists of the 1960’s and ‘70’s might have led us to believe. The rules of this game are extremely complicated and often seem to contradict themselves.  Working hard is not enough.  Some women have concluded that there needs to be a choice between being a good mother and being a good employee. Many women have made the painful choice to be either a good wife or a good employee, sacrificing the joy of motherhood for the pursuit of a fulfilling career or choosing to devote themselves to a career over the satisfaction of raising a family. I believe this choice may be a real either/or reality for many women, but only because society has not yet provided the infrastructure to allow all women to be both–at least not simultaneously.

For myself, I opted for sequential achievement.  I had a counseling career for ten years, then opted to redefine myself as a writer while I raised children.  It felt like the only option that afforded me the flexibility to balance a career with involved mothering. Once the children were all back in school, though I continued to write, I also went back to a more traditional job.

Although women are no longer required to drop out of higher education if they marry or become pregnant, affordable child care still remains a barrier for many women. Live-in “help” remains a privilege of the most wealthy. Without adequate childcare, many working women, especially single mothers and those working entry level positions, end up trying to juggle at least three identities: career, wife and mother, housekeeper and cook, and all too often, especially for single moms, a second job to pay for the childcare. Flexible work schedules that accommodate family development need to be set in place so that parents of either gender who make use of this flexibility, do not feel singled out or deprived of promotions. Employer provided, on-site child care (including care for sick children) is a necessity if society is to equally value the contributions and honor the abilities of women as equal to those of men. Without this support, even the most skilled of women will remain trapped in unsatisfying, low wage positions. This seems to me a steep price to pay!  It means that the contributions of only half of society are valued. The full career potential of half of society is discarded as a means to enhance the contributions of the other half.

This is especially true for women who come from less privileged backgrounds. They begin with fewer support systems, little accurate guidance and fewer opportunities for advancement. Without education, they lack the opportunity to advance even if they possess innate abilities.  Without childcare, the addition of educational pursuits on top of the roles of mother, wife, worker, homemaker becomes unattainable except for the most determined of women.  Affordable, reliable, convenient childcare remains one of the biggest career hurdles for mothers.  It is really time that we, as a society provide the infrastructure to both empower women as workers and empower men as co-equal caregivers for their offspring.

 

I’ve been thinking . . .

200238491-001People tell me I shouldn’t but I can’t seem to stop. I have been asking, “Why?” in one form or another as long as I have lived. This earned me no praise as a child either at home where my parents valued obedience or in Catholic Schools where the nuns valued unquestioning adherence to the rules and doctrines of church, state and school. Asking, “Why?” was frowned upon. It got me punishment assignments in school, extra chores at home and angry stares from peers.

In the world of work, it has been the exceptional employer who has valued my questions. I was sixteen when I asked, “Why do waitresses make 80 cents an hour while waiters make $1.30 cents an hour? The men do not carry heavier trays or climb steeper steps to the kitchen. They do not have more experience or work any harder than the women. In fact, they get the stations with the higher tips and the best shifts, working prime dinner hours and not the mid afternoon lag time. In fact, the men often worked lunch and then took off the lag time to get their household chores and personal errands done and then return to work the dinner and evening shifts. Women were given a half hour lunch period for which we were required to clock out but were not permitted to leave the premises. I was told that it was because men had families to support. Yet the evidence among wait staff I toiled amongst seemed to be that the women were more often single mothers supporting kids or putting themselves through college (as I was) and the men were students like I was or just –single.  If it was a question of greater need, then it would seem that the women who were single moms should be paid more or be given the shifts guaranteed to garner the better tips.

Despite what they said, it was not about need.  It was about privilege.  We all know that now, right? And while I’m at it, talking about privilege, there never were any wait staff of any racial makeup other than white on the shifts I worked.

This was in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  I am pleased to see that things have changed since then . . . at least on the surface.  And yet, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. There are more people of color working as wait staff and behind the counters of fast food restaurants. These were all staffed by young white kids when I was in High School. Fast food was the expected “first job” for a lot of us. The turnover was high. As soon as we could find a better job, we would step up to a new, better employer. Today, I look at the fast food counters staffed largely by brown and black faces. I see far too many of them not “stepping up,” not moving on. They stay in those jobs for years. They make a career of McDonald’s and Wendy’s. I look at this and I wonder, “Why?”  Is this a conscious choice?  I know that McDonald’s can be a good career for some in the management track. Where are the next steps for the rest of them? Are there impediments that prevent their upward move, and if so, are they social or cultural, educational or psychological? I suspect the answer is multifaceted and complicated featuring, in some proportion, all of the above?